San Diego County officials say they are continuing to investigate whether a 22-acre firing range north of Escondido can operate without a major-use permit, despite complaints filed by the range’s neighbors for more than a year.
In February, NBC 7 Investigates first reported on the gun range near San Pasqual that is owned by a nonprofit called the Freedom Fighters Foundation.
Residents living in the area told NBC 7 Investigates they were worried over the excessive amount of gunfire, lasting for long stretches of time and occurring during times of the day when fire risk was high.
“There is really only one road in and out of the San Pasqual neighborhood,” said John Carroll, a former FBI agent who lives in the neighborhood. “It could very easily turn into a tremendous disaster.”
Last year, Carroll said he and his neighbors complained to the Sheriff’s Department and other county authorities about the fire danger and noise but their complaints never resulted in any meaningful action.
Still, in September, Carroll said the risk behind firing automatic weapons in the area hasn’t diminished. “They're shooting over 25 to 30 thousand rounds of ammunition every single Saturday and every single Sunday.”
NBC 7 Investigates found the gun range had acquired no permits prior to operating.
The land the range sits on was purchased on November 18, 2016, by members of the Freedom Fighters Foundation, including a Border Patrol Agent named Alex Djokich. The Freedom Fighters Foundation is a nonprofit created by Djokich and his wife.
According to the nonprofit’s website, the foundation’s mission statement is to ”enlighten the participants to the misinformation and indoctrination they have received through the public education system and the media.”
On Monday, the nonprofit’s former Chief Executive Officer Chad Kipper pleaded guilty to felony gun trafficking charges. To read more about that, click here.
According to Congressman Scott Peters’ office, the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General is now investigating what role Border Patrol agents have had with the firing range.
Changes to the Property
In a warning letter sent in April, San Diego County officials told the Freedom Fighters Foundation they had until May to make changes on the property. Those changes included addressing unpermitted structures, illegal grading and the removal of hazardous materials.
The county also requested owners to meet with its engineers to discuss the appropriate zoning for the property. The owners agreed to the county's demands and said they would make changes to the property.
NBC 7 Investigates launched DroneRanger7 this month to see what changes, if any, were made to the property. From an aerial view, we could see some metal targets and cargo containers had been removed. Also, a long bridge walkway that we had seen in February is now gone.
Through a public records request, NBC 7 Investigates obtained notes from the county’s meetings with the Freedom Fighters Foundation to discuss the property, starting in May.
Regarding the “unpermitted grading” on the property, Alex Djokich told the county the work was done prior to the purchasing of the land.
Satellite images though, appear to show otherwise.
Looking at Google Earth images archived from March 2016, NBC 7 Investigates found there is no grading on the property. Comparing the image to one taken in November 2016, the grading work begins. This was the month, according to property's records, that the Freedom Fighters Foundation purchased the land.
NBC 7 Investigates sent the satellite images to both the county and Robert Wright, the attorney representing the Freedom Fighters Foundation, but neither responded.
Also at the May meeting, the firing range's owners said they don't need a permit to operate the range because only “friends and family” are invited to shoot.
On Wednesday, Michael Workman, a spokesperson for the county said officials were still investigating whether or not the property requires a major-use permit, as other firing ranges have acquired.